Tuesday, November 22, 2011
By Greg Gulas
Having just completed his 27th season as a professional umpire, Wally Bell is quick to point out that his 20 seasons at the Major League level have been some of the most rewarding of his career.
Speaking to the Curbstone Coaches on Monday, the Austintown Fitch High graduate noted that if it weren’t for the local Class “B” and “AA” leagues, his avocation might never have become his life vocation.
“First and foremost, our local sandlots field some of the best teams and play some of the finest baseball in the state of Ohio,” Bell said. “Being able to start out at that level of play was definitely a plus for me.”
Bell and Bryan O’Nora (another Fitch graduate) attended the Joe Brinkman Umpire School in 1984.
Starting out in rookie ball in the New York-Penn League that summer, Bell later worked in the South Atlantic League, Carolina League, Southern League and International League, as well as the Dominican Republic before his call-up in 1992 to the National League.
O’Nora joined the majors as an American League umpire as were Mahoning Valley residents John Hirschbeck and Jerry Meals.
“The Mahoning Valley has definitely contributed its share of referees and umpires to both professional baseball and the other major professional sports,” Bell said.
Bell said it has taken some time to make the transition to get used his new boss — former Yankees and Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have Joe [Torre] as my boss,” Bell said. “It’s just kind of funny when you think of the many words and arguments that you had over the years when he was in the dugout and questioning one of your calls.”
Bell said the interleague format will be tweaked.
“Currently there are 16 National League and 14 American League teams, so moving the [Houston] Astros to the American League would make the two leagues even in membership.
“To the fans who embrace interleague play, they will now have the opportunity to see those [games] playing on almost a weekly basis,” Bell said.
In the offseason, Bell has served as an evaluator of officials for John Mang, who assigns basketball officials for the Federal and Inter-Tri County leagues.
“With 26 teams to visit, it definitely keeps you hopping from gym to gym,” Bell said.
The Curbstone Coaches next meeting will be on Dec. 5 when Bob Boldon, Youngstown State University’s head women’s basketball coach, will serve as guest speaker.